Prevent pesky pantry pests from dominating your domain

It’s mid-winter in the Midwest, and that means folks are hanging out and huddling inside their homes, choosing indoor activities like baking until the days start getting longer and warmer.

While baking might be fun, finding pantry pests in the ingredients is not. Be it cigarette beetles, indianmeal moths or red flour beetles, these guys can hole-up for months, thriving inside dry, packaged foods and turning your space into their new hangout.

“Pantry pests are attracted to a number of different things that you already have in your home,” said Mark Vanderwerp, manager of education and training at Rose Pest Solutions. “Items from bird seed, cereals and chocolate to dried fruits, pasta and potpourri are just some of the things that lure in these insects.”

While pantry pests can sneak into homes through cracks and crevices or underneath doors, the most common place they come from is actually the grocery or pet store.

“These pests can get into food packaging at a processing plant or on a delivery truck, and eventually, they can make it home with you,” said Mark Sheperdigian, Rose’s vice president of technical services. “Infestation can start with just a few insects or bugs, but over time they will multiply if they’re left alone.”

If pantry pests go unchecked, they can end up posing a number of problems by contaminating food and then spreading to other susceptible products inside a pantry. They will continue to breed, producing several generations in just a single year.

Eggs, larvae and pupa can be tough to see, sometimes making it easy to miss pests that have made their way inside.

“It may not be until there are dozens or hundreds of pests that someone realizes there is a problem,” Vanderwerp said. “Looking for hints like visible webbing, from indianmeal moths, or piles of shed skins from beetles are signs of having pantry pests.”

Rose Pest Solutions offers several ways to prevent pantry pests from taking up residence:
• Clean pantry annually, removing all items before vacuuming and washing to ensure thorough cleaning.
• Items that haven’t been used (and aren’t likely to be used) can be discarded.
• Seal foods inside hard plastic containers; this will keep them fresh longer and will also seal-in smells that can attract pantry pests.
• Toss all food packages with rips, tears or other openings.
• Stack newer items in the back of the pantry and use older items first.
• Clean old containers before putting fresh food inside.
• Do not combine old and new dry food products.
• Keep pantry dry and well-ventilated, and keep shelves free of food particles.
• Store bird seed and pet food inside sealed containers instead of leaving it in the bag.

Vanderwerp said one of the easiest ways to correct a pantry pest issue is to dispose of any infested items right away. If they’ve made their way into a valuable, non-food item that cannot be easily replaced, seal it in a bag and put inside the freezer for about a week to kill all the pests.

If any of the above do-it-yourself options have failed, a thorough inspection by someone knowledgeable about the pest’s biology and behaviors can often turn up things easily missed by a homeowner. Through sanitation and targeted application of pesticides, pantry pest issues can generally be dealt with in an environmentally-friendly way.